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Michael Maher’s London are in it to win it

Michael Maher's London are in it to win it
London manager Michael Maher. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

By Damian Dolan

London will approach every game in the national league with the intent to “win it”, new manager Michael Maher has promised.

The Exiles welcome Sligo to McGovern Park on Sunday for their Division 4 opener, with Maher saying they’ll be no talk of “damage limitation”, and certainly no references to “parking the bus”.

However, the Round Towers boss, who has taken over the reins from Ciaran Deely, says for that to happen the Exiles will need to perform at nothing short of 100 per cent.

Roscommon, who visit Ruislip on 2 May in the Connacht Championship, is a name not even in the team’s vocabulary at this juncture. Everything is geared towards the league.

“I love winning, the players love winning, and winning makes everything that bit more enjoyable,” Maher told the Irish World.

“We’re going to fill the lads with as much belief as possible and make them believe they can get on top of the opposition, as long as they perform to 100 per cent. Nothing less.

“London can’t afford to perform at 80 per cent – we have to perform at 100 per cent to come out on the right side.”

He added: “We know we’ve got to earn the right to compete in every game, and once we’ve done that it will come down to the fine margins.”

London v Wexford NFL Rd 3 2019 (9).jpg
Liam Gavaghan will again captain London. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

Roscommon, though, Maher admits is the one game in London’s fixture itinerary this year where there’s a “clear gulf” on paper between the teams.

Their Div 4 games are all “winnable”, but only if the Exiles reach can that magic 100 number.

Preparations have gone well; the team is confident and as “well prepared as it can be at this moment in time”, says Maher.

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The only thing missing over the past few weeks has been challenge matches. London can only envy Limerick’s McGrath Cup run.

Maher estimates it could take them the first three games to get up to the match fitness levels of their Div 4 rivals, but that doesn’t mean London will be surrendering any of those opening games.

It’s just the “nature of being an overseas team”.

“Until we come out of a couple of national league games we won’t know exactly where we’re at. It’s frustrating, but that’s the situation,” said Maher.

Michael Mahers London are in it to win it
Ciaran Deely’s London came close to beating Galway at McGovern Park last year. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

“In an ideal world we’d have the same amount of games under our belt as the teams we’re going to play.

“But the (35-man) panel’s in good shape – it’s a good group – working hard and we’ve minimal injuries.”

They’ve also had to change training venues, switching from Grasshoppers RFC in Ealing and Tir Chonaill Park in Greenford, to Staines RFC and Glen Rovers GAA Club in Watford, due to flooding.

But the team’s recent training camp in Louth went “very well” and Maher is optimistic about the campaign to come.

Success for London’s new manager will constitute seeing the team, and the players, develop from game one against Sligo, to game seven when Carlow come to Ruislip. And, of course, picking up some wins along the way.

Sligo arrive at Ruislip after a winless 2019, which saw them relegated from Div 3 and knocked out of Connacht by Galway by 13 points, after the Tribesmen had struggled to see off London at Ruislip.

Michael Mahers London are in it to win it
London’s only league win in 2019 came against Wexford – Lam Gallagher celebrates the Exiles’ 2-10 to 0-8 victory at McGovern Park. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

Offaly then ended Sligo’s year in the qualifiers with 11 points to spare. Coincidently, the Faithful had already knocked out London in the previous round, by a margin of ten points.

Paul Taylor’s Sligo have already suffered one defeat this year, beaten in the FBD League quarter-final by Roscommon (1-15 to 0-14).

They’ve lost their captain from last year, Niall Murphy, as well as centre back Adrian McIntyre. Both started Sligo’s ten-point win over London at Ruislip in 2018.

Sligo appear to be a team low on confidence, and potentially there for the taking.

But London still have the scars from Sligo’s last visit to McGovern Park, when the Yeats men arrived in Ruislip similarly weighed down by woes.

They then proceeded to belie their indifferent league form to produce a sparkling display full of energy and enterprise. Although the final margin was ten points, it felt like more.

So London will be very wary of reading too much into Sligo’s recent struggles, as the Yeats men still have many survivors in their ranks from that Ruislip victory.

Sean Carrabine, brother of London’s David, goalkeeper Aidan Devaney, Eoin McHugh, Patrick O’Connor, dual star Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch, Neil Ewing, Liam Gaughan, Pat Hughes and Stephen Coen all played in 2018.

In addition, Adrian Marren who scored 1-6 that day is also reported to be back, as is Keelan Cawley.

“They had a tough year last year, but Div 3 football is a huge step up from Div 4. Their aim will be to get out of Div 4 at the first opportunity, as will Carlow,” added Maher.

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